We're going through this situation with a mentality of denial. We like to assume that this pandemic is only an anomaly of history, and that its likely decline throughout these next couple of years will make life simply go back to the way it was before. Yet this optimism has eerie similarities to the way that people tend to view global warming: as something that won't fundamentally uproot our daily lives, and that's only producing crises that are momentary and recoverable.
Such naïve mindsets come from the impulse that human beings have to myopically focus on our immediate concerns, and to therefore downplay or discount the idea that the trends we're experiencing now could be warning signs of something far worse in the future. These kinds of horrors on the horizon feel too vague, too detached from the here and now. And in our present, where more and more inhabitants of late-stage capitalism are having to worry about how to keep their homes and how to stay fed, the masses have less and less time to concern themselves with distant events.
But how distant even are these threats? We're already suffering from the fallout from an outbreak that's being compounded by neoliberal dysfunctionality, and that will become more capable of upsurges as global socioeconomic inequality continues to rise in the coming years. The climate crisis is already proliferating diseases like Lyme, chikungunya, malaria, and dengue. The logical conclusion of this is a scenario where the vast majority of humanity will be under threat from diseases that now seem largely foreign to those living in the First World. As Rolling Stone's Jeff Goodell wrote last month:
As the world warms, making more of the planet comfortable for heat-loving Aedes aegypti, the mosquito's range will expand northward, and to higher altitudes. By 2080, one recent study estimated, more than 6 billion people, or 60 percent of the world's population, will be at risk for dengue. "The fact is, climate change is going to sicken and kill a lot of people," says Colin Carlson, a biologist at the Center for Global Health and Security at Georgetown University. "Mosquito-borne diseases are going to be a big way that happens."
The same dangers are going to rise in regard to bats, assesses Goodell while quoting epidemiologist at Montana State University Raina Plowright:
"Things are changing really quickly. You can imagine a network of food caches across a landscape... some of the bats are moving from one patch to the next; one has flowers and nectar, then they die off, and the bats go to the next patch. You start taking away those patches, get to a point where there's no food, so they end up in people's yards, or at horse stables, or anywhere food is plentiful." The more contact these bats have with other animals, as well as people, the more opportunities the viruses they carry have to spill over. "SARS-Cov-2 has been a humanitarian disaster," Plowright says. "But can you imagine if it was killing half the people it infected after some period of asymptomatic transmission? That's the risk we are taking here. And the quicker the climate changes, the bigger the risk grows."
These heightened disease dangers will be the result not just of the changing of the climate, but of capitalist food production's disruptions to the food chain and extermination of the species that are required for sufficient biodiversity. As Chris Hedges wrote last month:
Far worse pandemics will sweep the globe with higher rates of infections and mortality, an inevitable result of our continued consumption of animals and animal products, and the wanton destruction of the ecosystem on which we and other species depend for life. Razing the rainforest for cattle grazing and vast tracts of farmland devoted to growing monocrops to feed animals destined for human consumption are responsible for up to 91 percent of Amazon rainforest destruction since 1970. The loss of forests is one of the single biggest contributors to climate change. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of ocean dead zones. Oceans could be devoid of fish by 2048. Each minute, 7 million pounds of feces are produced by the animals raised for human food in the US alone. The continued destruction of natural habitat, coupled with the vast factory farms which use 80 percent of the antibiotics in the U.S. and incubate drug-resistant pathogens that spread to human populations, presage new forms of the Black Death.
Also consider that given current socioeconomic trends, and given how the changing climate will exacerbate those trends, by 2080 or even 2030 there won't even be a "First World" as we know it today. At least this will be the case throughout the capitalist world, which is slipping ever deeper into neoliberal austerity in contrast to increasingly prosperous socialist countries like China and Vietnam. Biden plans to increase the austerity policies that have made the U.S. into the country with the most COVID deaths, and the capitalist ruling class will keep embracing these policies in the decades to come. This is because as corporate profits continue to shrink, the bourgeoisie will keep shifting the costs of the system's crises onto the lower classes.
In other words, capitalism is eating itself, with healthcare resources, shelter for low-income people, and other facets of a functioning modern civilization being the victims of the self-carnage. And this is turning back the clock on the abilities that humanity has gained for reducing the mortality rates from infectious diseases. We're undergoing a crisis that's multiplying its own levels of seriousness; the IMF has seized upon the pandemic to enact increased austerity, privatization, and wage cuts within 81 countries, which will push far more people into extreme poverty after around 150 million worldwide became impoverished in this last year. In turn, tens of millions more will become highly vulnerable to the outbreaks to come.
What will this mean for the stability of countries, including the core imperialist countries that are supposed to be immune from the chaos that plagues Libya, Yemen, Honduras, and other destabilized places? It will mean the horrors that the imperialist powers have inflicted on these countries increasingly coming to afflict the people within the imperialist countries themselves. So far, nowhere is this ironic trend more real than in the center of global imperialism the United States, which has had over a third of a million COVID-19 deaths and is expected to have 150,000 more during this next month.
To see why the core of imperialism and the self-described "greatest country on Earth" is turning into the epicenter for late-stage capitalism's humanitarian crises, you only need to review the history of the U.S. during the neoliberal era and the War on Terror: austerity to the point where the U.S. has been made into the only major country without universal healthcare, a globally unparalleled military budget that's been used as an excuse to deprive the people of basic programs like paid childcare leave, the funneling of excess military equipment from the endless wars to police, the resulting proliferation of state violence against the growing masses of impoverished people. We've been building up to something catastrophic, where the ingrained dysfunctionality of our social system results in mass-disease deaths too large for one to think possible in the modern age. We thought we had left crises of that scale behind, but our complicity in empire is making one unfold right before our eyes.
Before this is followed by a far worse outbreak, most of us will keep standing by as the empire creates horrors for those in the countries that are relatively less stable than ours--and in the process makes it more likely for those horrors to come to afflict us. The U.S. war machine, the world's largest polluting institution and the enforcer of much of the world's destructive neoliberal policies, is using bombs, drone strikes, and private military contractors to inflict violence upon the inhabitants of the world's poorest nations. The longer we remain complicit in this, the worse the eventual blowback for us will be.